Friday, August 14, 2015

An Unexpected Interruption to Our Plans

I have landed myself in a really great position here at this current trucking company.  I am considered to be the top producer in this specialized fleet, and because of that I often get to pick and choose which loads I want to take.  When Abigail and I heard they had a load leaving out on Friday for Connecticut she was all excitement, so we agreed to take that one.  It was supposed to load on Friday. It didn't. Then on Saturday we fully expected to get rolling on our way up to Connecticut. Mid morning we got a call informing us that the load was being cancelled! That's trucking for ya! The only thing you can count on sometimes is that you can't count on anything! We were disappointed because I have got to get her back home by Friday of this week, and now it is going to be tough to do that with me not knowing where I will be going until Monday. Most of the time I have long runs and that is going to make it next to impossible to work the logistics out of getting her back home on time. So... we made the difficult decision to cut our time together short.

My dispatcher said he would share with me on Monday the list of loads that we had and I could write my own ticket to where I wanted to go - You've got to love this account I'm on! But, Abigail and I discussed it and decided we would go ahead and get her home now so that we don't run the risk of being late. I'm sitting in Delhi, Louisiana waiting on my next load, and that puts me about four hours from my home. We called my wife and she came and picked up Abigail so that she could get home. We still had this weekend together though while I was doing a reset. So, what do you do when you are taking a 34 hour break in a small town? Well... you can take your daughter to the local nail salon to get a pedicure...

Or you can walk around down town acting silly together and taking whacky pictures of each other to send to your friends on Snap Chat!

You can also go to your favorite little old fashioned "Soda Fountain" lunch counter in the old drug store down town for a really good old fashioned Hamburger and fries!

And you can also catch up on a few practical things like doing your laundry! Got to keep things in that truck ready for the next week ahead, you never know where you will be or what you will be facing. So when you get a break you need to prepare things so that you can take on the next week like a true professional!

Oh yeah, there was one other experience we enjoyed together.  When I got back down to Delhi my dispatcher wanted me to do him a favor and run a damaged trailer over to Monroe, Louisiana to a repair facility for him.  As I studied my available hours it looked like we would have enough time to stop by for one last special treat for Abigail by dining at Willie's Duck Diner in Monroe.

Here she is anticipating some of that good food we're about to eat while standing in the foyer waiting to be seated at our table.

We made a lot of memories while we were together on this trip, it was short, but sweet!  I love you Abigail!

My Third Post with Abigail

Anytime you can get something done a day early like this you are just setting yourself up to be ready for another load. I speak a lot in here about how the pay on this job is performance based. I'm trying to share with you my methods and the reasons behind them so that you can understand how a truck driver finds his way to success in this career. Staying ahead of the game, and having a dispatcher that understands that you are going to do what it takes to stay ahead will definitely help you stay at the top of the food chain. So many truck drivers concern themselves overly with whether their company can "give them enough miles" - you should just just get out there and consistently prove to them that you will do what ever it takes to keep things moving along faster than the average drivers and you will have all the work you can possibly handle.

Here's a peek at Abigail standing by my truck sporting her pink hard hat and her pink work gloves. She's learning a few things from me about load securement, and I'm learning from here about things like Snap-Chat, and Instagram!

We picked up a two stop back haul load in Yankton, South Dakota. If you remember, we were going to try and get our second stop on the last load delivered a day early. Well, we managed to get our third stop delivered early also. Here's a tip: Keep good communications going with your customers. Once I realized that I was going to make good time in getting to my second stop on that load I called my third stop to tell them that I could be there by 3:30, that is the cut-off time for receiving at that location. I told them how many bundles I had for them and they said if I could get there by 3:30 they would unload me. I really believe in communicating with my customers. Because I run for a dedicated account, many of my customers end up seeing me repeatedly, and some of them kind of get to know me. I've even had them request me for a load. One time when my dispatcher had me on a very time sensitive load, he later informed me that the anxious customer called him in an effort to verify that the driver was going to make it on time. When he told them it was me at the wheel they were relieved and said they would quit bothering him now because they knew that I always got there when I said I would. I was proud when my dispatcher told me about that experience, but he was even more so - you could hear the satisfaction in his voice when he said "I wish all my drivers would call ahead to their customers like you do, and keep them in the loop of what's going on, it saves me a lot of headache and extra work." I'm sorry, I'm getting side-tracked - I pulled in at that third stop at 3:28 and they had me unloaded by 3:45! We then rolled on to within about 25 miles of our final destination in Yankton, South Dakota and stopped for the night at the Coffee Cup truck stop.

I almost forgot to share with you this picture of Abigail having her morning cup of "Joe" - I don't drink coffee, so I'm blissfully ignorant about that mysterious black liquid. I would call her drink "a cup of it cost a latte", but it probably has a much more sophisticated name like "double truffle super snuffle Viente creamy espresso, or something along those lines. What ever... she's my guest this week so I'll gladly indulge her tastes - I'm really enjoying having her along.

Abigail has been quite amazed at how much corn we produce in this country while driving through Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, and South Dakota. She also discovered that rather unpleasant odor put out by a feed lot that is trying to produce some nicely marbled corn fed beef! She's been having a great time, and I even caught her "horsing around" with the big green "Sinclair" dinosaur at a truck stop near Pocahontas, Iowa.

Continuing on With Abigail

We spent a few days at home before we went back to Delhi, LA. As we were travelling to Delhi I remembered that those folks from "Duck Dynasty" are located in Monroe, Louisiana. I drive right by the exit for their place of business every time I come through here. I don't really ever give it much of a thought, but since Abigail is almost goofy about those people I decided to surprise her with a visit to their manufacturing facility. Here she is almost hyperventilating over this surprise opportunity to have her photo taken underneath the old sign on the building.

Our load that we got on next had four stops - first one was in Kansas City, Missouri, then we proceeded on to Sioux City, Iowa, Lennox, South Dakota, and our final stop was in Yankton, South Dakota.

Here is what things looked like inside the Conestoga wagon we pulled for this load.

We left out of Delhi, Louisiana on Thursday night, and our first stop wasn't scheduled until Monday morning in Kansas City. The more I drove and the more I thought about my route, I kept on thinking that I could get us up around Branson, Missouri by Friday afternoon, and that would leave us only about two hundred and fifty more miles to Kansas City. So I questioned Abigail to see what she thought about the two of us spending the day Saturday on a little visit to "Silver Dollar City," an amusement park in Branson. She got so excited I thought she would burst! So, Friday night we had a little celebratory dinner in Branson at an all you can eat Crab Leg and Lobster buffet, then we slept soundly in the truck while waiting to spend the following day at Silver Dollar City! Here we are on the shuttle bus that took us from the parking area up to the front gate of the park.

Here's the kind of problems you run into when trying to be creative about finding a place to park your truck when you decide to do something special like this while out on the road. We had a parking spot at a truck stop about twenty miles from Silver Dollar City, but I didn't think it wise to drop my trailer there for an entire day while I'm away. So we telephoned Silver Dollar City and the nice young man who answered told us that if we came into the main gate that an attendant there would direct us to a parking lot where we could park our eighteen wheeler. Well, when we got there we were told that they can't accommodate a vehicle that size, and they wouldn't let us in! So I immediately began looking for anything close by, as I drove away from the park, that might suffice for a parking spot for my rig. I spotted some abandoned buildings with large enough parking areas, but that seemed a little questionable - the last thing I needed was to have my rig towed away while I'm having a great time in the amusement park with my daughter. Finally I spotted an R.V. repair facility that had lots of open space, so I pulled in and politely introduced myself and my daughter and told them our situation while offering to pay them for the chance to park on their property while we spent the day together at the park. They let us park for free, and it was only a brief walk over to the park from their facility. It's always best to have permission if you need to park in an unusual situation. That is what we did, and it all worked out very well for us. This is a great example of the kind of stuff you can do when you need to take a 34 hour reset out on the road, or if you just have some extra time to kill like we did, you can plan ahead and take advantage of some of the local entertainment.

We slept that night right there in the R.V. lot and drove the next day to our next stop where we parked in such a way that even if another truck comes in here later on, he can't get into the unloading area until they unload me first. The un-initiated may think this rude or inconsiderate, but any experienced driver will recognize the value of doing things like this. I can get unloaded in the morning without ever starting my 14 hour clock and if there is some unforeseen delay it won't affect us negatively. This also allows me to get on up to Sioux City, IA tomorrow in time to get my second stop done a day early which will allow me to finish this job early enough on Tuesday to turn in the paper work so that it goes on the next pay check.

Shame on Me!

You know what?  I'm starting to think this job is just too demanding to keep up a blog about my experiences - I never seem to find the time to do it on a regular basis.  I am completely embarrassed that I never posted one thing about my time with Abigail, but she and I were having such a wonderful time together that I just never got around to it.  Of course there is also the fact that I don't think anyone even reads this blog so I probably would not be missed at all if I drop off and quit this little exercise!

But... just for grins I'm gonna fill you in on what happened when I had my "baby girl" with me.

I had a little trouble getting everything worked out just right to get our little trip started. I was going to take a little home time, but then I had a load to Texas that needed to be delivered first. Here's the way I decided to work it all out. I swung through my home town on the way to South Texas and picked up Abigail, with the understanding that we would deliver this load and then come back by the house for enough time off to get in a 34 hour reset.

I spent one night at home and then left the next morning with Abigail for our summer trip together. The PPPE that I had purchased a few years ago for my other girls was handed down to her for the trip. What is PPPE you ask? It is Pink Personal Protective Equipment - all my girls have to have this to be able to ride along with me and help me out here on the road. Here is my daughter showing her excitement about what we are embarking on as she dons her pink hard hat.

Right away she stated trying to take over the truck with her feminine ways by reorganizing the limited space we were sharing and cleaning things up, sweeping the floor of the truck, and just being a general little Cinderella.  One of the first things she did was to get her own space in her bunk all established the way she wanted it to be.

I started this little run down into South Texas by myself at the SAPA plant in Delhi, Louisiana when I picked up this two stop load on a pre-loaded trailer that was bound for Corpus Christi and then McAllen, Texas. Here's what it looked like after I had her all battened down and ready to roll.

I run dedicated loads out of this plant in Delhi all the time. I come in here and pick up pre-loaded trailers, but I am responsible for securing the load and tarping it when needed. About fifty percent of the time I will have a Conestoga type cover on the flat-bed which eliminates the tarp work. Here is the loading area at the plant where we back up to our trailers and get them ready to roll.

After spending one night at the house I picked up Abigail and we made a plan of how to get this done so that I could deliver this two stop load, stop again on my way back in Katy, TX at a Knight terminal for some service on my truck, be back in Nacogdoches for some business that I needed to take care of on Wednesday, manage to get in a 34 hour reset, and do all of this while getting me back on the road early Thursday morning so that we can get back to Delhi early enough for me to do some training of some new drivers coming on to our fleet that day, and I'm hoping to leave out from the plant that evening with a load of my own. I'm giving you these details of my thought processes because I want you to see how a professional driver has to think and plan several days in advance, all the time, if you are going to be able to capitalize on the H.O.S. (hours of service) you have available to you

Here's how we planned it out: I spent Saturday night in my own bed - woo-hoo! - then we hit the road around 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning. We drove to Corpus Christi with one stop for fuel, and a couple of bathroom stops also. I can go all day behind the wheel without hardly stopping if needed, but when I've got my girls along I try to accommodate their needs. We also stopped for a fun little visit to a unique little restaurant in El Campo, Texas called "Pinchers".

Sometimes truck drivers have to be creative when it comes to parking places for their rigs. Pinchers is not a truck friendly restaurant - there is no place to park a rig. So, how do you handle a situation like this? You study the situation and, in our case, I had already been here and devised a parking system of my own on a previous visit. Just about a hundred yards down the highway from Pinchers is a corn field with an abandoned gas well site that has a nice good solid roadway built into it and a nice solid pad with plenty of room to get a big truck in and out of. So, I just pull in there, park it, and take a short little walk over to the restaurant.

We shared a meal called their "sampler platter" which was a little bit of everything in it's fried version, some slaw, some gumbo, and some e'toufee, it was simply more than we could eat.

Okay, don't worry about us wasting any food, we simply took our left overs and fed them to the waterfowl and the hungry Koi fish who were swimming around outside in the pond.

Now back to our trip planning. We drove on in to Corpus Sunday night. One of the great benefits of running on a dedicated account is that often times I'm going to repeat customers, and I am familiar with all the places where I can sleep on their property. In the case of this customer in Corpus Christi, I have an arrangement with a Mexican restaurant next door to their facility. We always deliver to this customer on Monday morning, and the Mexican restaurant is closed on Sunday. The owner gave me permission to park and sleep in her adequate parking lot on Sunday nights. I always return the favor by eating breakfast with her bright and early Monday morning before I deliver next door. We also had a convenience store just about a block away so that Abigail has access to a restroom if needed. (you've got to think about all this stuff)

The reason for not parking at a truck stop about ten miles away is so that we can get in the locked gate next door and get unloaded and ready to move on to our next stop without starting our fourteen hour clock. This customer is notoriously slow about unloading us. Sure enough it was around 10:30 a.m. when we were ready to move on, but we were let in the gate at 0700 that morning. Here's a look at me getting down and dirty while removing my tarps from this load.

Okay, once we were done at that location we headed for McAllen where we met a Mexican Truck that will take the remaining bundles of freight I have on across the border to their final destination. I had already called earlier and given the Mexican Trucking company my ETA at the agreed upon location in McAllen and we arrived there about thirty minutes before the Mexican driver. The forklift operator at the facility where we met wasted no time in switching the freight from my truck to his. That worked out remarkably well so that we didn't lose a lot of time, which was critical to our trip planning - we still want to leave here and drive all the way to Katy, TX the same night so that we can get our truck in the service bay first thing in the morning. We don't even have time to stop and eat on this leg - it is run and gun if we are going to make it! We did it, and had fourteen minutes left on our 11 hour drive clock when we set those air brakes at the terminal in Katy, TX. Now you see why I didn't want to start my clock by parking the night before at a truck stop. I'm giving you these details so that you can realize how a truck driver has to think ahead and manage his time so that he can make things work out properly out on the road.

After all that we went home for a couple of days I had a nice date with my wife, went to see Sarah's new house and help her with a problem she was having with her car, then it was off to the races for Abigail and I. My dispatcher wanted me to help train some new drivers coming on to our fleet Thursday about how to get your loads secured and tarped at the plant in Delhi, and then...  we will see where we go next.